So, Russia Joins the WTO. But Is It Ready To Fall in Line with TRIPS?
There was much hullaballoo on international media outlets today, with the formal accession of Russia into the World Trade Organization (WTO). It was the end of a 19-year long negotiation and wrangling process, and by joining the largest organization in the world committed to free trade, Russia couldn’t have announced the future intentions for its trade and development policy any louder if President Putin had shouted them from the stunningly beautiful rooftops of the Kremlin. Director-General Pascal Lémy of the WTO, in his enthusiastic welcome speech called it a “win-win deal,” highlighting the new opportunities for trade partnerships that will open up on both sides. Even more importantly, thanks to Russia’s accession, 97% of the world’s trade will now be controlled by the WTO. The goal, according to D-G Lémy, is “universality in the coverage of global world trade.”
While it’s certainly important to note the marathon efforts made by Russia over the last two decades in consolidating its trade policy and bringing it closer to compliance with the WTO’s standards, today’s accession definitely begs the question: what is the WTO going to do about Russia’s pretty miserable intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement record? As we’ve pointed out earlier in the month, this is the 16th year in a row that Russia is on an international IP watch list for lack of adequate IPR enforcement mechanisms and efforts. More importantly, the US has consistently pointed towards Russia’s inadequacy in its IPR-protection regime, such as in this press release from 2007 (right after the Russia’s new national IPR legislation came into effect in 2006). The primary concern has always been compliance with international trade treaties like the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), with the US promising to help Russia reach acceptable IPR compliance levels ASAP. TRIPS is, of course, a WTO-administered treaty, and the “it-kid” of trade and protection of intellectual property protection today; therefore, any country signing into the WTO must agree to the rules and requirements of TRIPS, with respect to intellectual property.
Also, as Joshua Green points out, Russia’s problem, like many emerging nations, is not the way its laws look on paper, but in their practical application. Corruption, for one, is one of the country’s biggest issues (it ranked as the 143rd most corrupt nation out of 183 in 2011), and the gap between TRIPS-compliance and the current policy might not be easy to fill. It might even be more difficult to attract the confidence of private investors and companies, and so, until Russia shapes up with its IP enforcement regime, its accession to the WTO might be tainted by the embarrassing intellectual property violations record that it has.
Image credit: Voice of Russia
About: Mekhala Chaubal
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